Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Joseph Duggan (1884–1934)

by L. J. Louis

This article was published:

William Joseph Duggan (1884-1934), trade union official, was born on 31 January 1884 at 23 Spencer Street, (West) Melbourne, son of William Duggan, ironmoulder, and his wife Elizabeth Margaret, née Whitmore, both Melbourne-born. After education at West Melbourne State School, Duggan worked for an estate agent, but soon left to qualify as a plumber. After six years he joined the navy and in the next five years his knowledge of the world was expanded by extensive travel and by avid reading, the start of a sustained process of self-education. He also became champion boxer of the squadron.

On leaving the navy, Billy Duggan resumed work as a plumber and on 12 March 1910 at St James Old Cathedral, Melbourne, married Frances Annie Barratt. At this time he advocated military training, maintaining that any citizen force should be officered by working men's sons: he joined the Commonwealth Military Cadet Corps and in March 1912 was commissioned provisionally as lieutenant but resigned next year. In 1916-17 he was to oppose conscription.

On 11 October 1910 Duggan was admitted to membership of the United Operative Plumbers and Gasfitters' Society of Victoria (from April 1912 the Australian Plumbers and Gasfitters Employees' Union). By August 1911 he was vice-president, and in January 1912 was elected first organizer. His salary of £3.6s. a week was raised in December 1913 to £3.15s. and there were further increases in 1916 and 1924. Duggan was also on the federal body of his union, and was active on the United Building Trades Council which in 1914 became the Building Trades Federation with Duggan as its first secretary. In 1917, as an employees' representative, he contributed substantially to a Federal government shipbuilding scheme, and in March 1918 was appointed to the Shipbuilding Tribunal.

In the 1920s Duggan rose to prominence in the labour movement. A delegate from the Plumbers' Union from 1916, he came to play a leading role on the Trades Hall Council. He was president in 1926-27, thereafter sitting on the executive and disputes committees, and was secretary from the end of 1930. In May 1927 he was chairman of the Third All-Australian Trade Union Congress which set up the Australasian Council of Trade Unions; he was elected president unopposed and held the position until 1934. With C. A. Crofts he did much to establish the authority of the A.C.T.U.

Meanwhile, Duggan had assumed important positions in the Australian Labor Party. He was first president of the Metropolitan Council in 1926 and Victorian president in 1928-29. A delegate to federal conference from the late 1920s, he was a member of the federal executive from 1929 until March 1931 and again in June 1932, and a vice-president from 1929 until February 1931. He unsuccessfully contested a selection ballot for the Federal seat of Bendigo in 1928, but came close to winning Henty for Labor in 1929. From August 1924 until defeated in August 1930, he was a Coburg councillor, and was mayor in 1928-29. He was also a justice of the peace.

Duggan was an effective chairman and an astute negotiator who sought conciliation rather than industrial conflict. He was regarded as one of Labor's best speakers, who displayed tact, logic and forbearance. A typical reformist official, he advocated political action, but with the Depression came into conflict with Labor governments over workers' living standards.

Duggan suffered for some six years from a duodenal ulcer before his death on 4 July 1934 at his home at Moreland. He was buried in Melbourne general cemetery after services conducted by Dr Charles Strong at the Trades Hall and by Presbyterian and Methodist ministers, J. T. Lawton and J. H. Cain, at the graveside. He was survived by his wife and two daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • L. J. Louis, Trade Unions and the Depression (Canb, 1968)
  • Labor Call, 12 May 1927, 13 Nov 1930, 5, 12 July 1934
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 3 Jan 1929
  • Australian Worker, 11 July 1934
  • Argus (Melbourne), 5, 6 July 1934
  • G. Dunkley, The ACTU 1927-1950, Politics, Organization and Economic Policy (Ph.D. thesis, Monash University, 1974)
  • Australian Plumbers and Gasfitters Employees' Union (Melbourne), and Trades Hall Council (Melbourne), minute books (Australian National University Archives).

Citation details

L. J. Louis, 'Duggan, William Joseph (1884–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 16 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


31 January, 1884
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


4 July, 1934 (aged 50)
Moreland, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.